Alpha Rocket Failure

On 5th September 2021, Firefly Aerospace says that its first Alpha rocket met with a failure when one of its first-stage engines shut down moments after takeoff.

On 2nd September 2021, Firefly posts a video from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. The video ends when the rocket tumbles out of control which is about 2.5 minutes after takeoff. Space Launch Delta 30 operates the range at Vandenberg then it destroys the rocket utilizing its flight termination system.

In a narrative supplementary to the video, Firefly says that one of the 4 Reaver engines in the rocket’s first phase, assigned engine 2, shut down 15 seconds into the flight. “It was an unexciting shutdown – the engine did not fail. The propelling main valves on the engine just closed and thrust terminated from engine 2,” the company states.

The rocket continues to ascend utilizing the remaining three engines, however, with a decrease in the thrust. That would clarify the deficit apparent in the flight. According to the firm’s press kit –

  • The vehicle was supposed to reach Mach 1 67 seconds into the flight
  • However, launch controllers did not report that the vehicle was supersonic until 2 minutes and 20 seconds after takeoff.

Firefly notes that “owing to missing the thrust of 1 of 4 engines the climb rate was slow. The vehicle was dared to keep control without the thrust vectoring of engine 2.” The vehicle was capable to stay stable while getting at subsonic speeds. However, once it went transonic, “the three-engine thrust vector controller was inadequate, and the vehicle fell out of control.”

The video showcases that the rocket fell for about 10 seconds prior to the flight termination system damaging it. The vehicle’s payload fairing broke off as the gyrations began. However, the rocket otherwise stayed intact, its leftover engines still firing, till the flight closure system set on.

The firm stresses before the flight that the launch was mainly a test flight that carries only a few payloads. “It is a flight test, so having data is a success,” says Tom Markusic in an interview the day before the launch. Tom is the chief executive of Firefly. “The more information we get, the better.”

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